Prom dress giveaways kick off this weekend

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Jen Sweet holds one of many donated prom dresses she will make available for high school students in need of a formal dress for upcoming proms. Sweet has organized a giveaway for the formal wear but needs more donated items to help her event. Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY — After a couple of unpredictable years due to COVID, high schools throughout Hancock County are hoping to host traditional proms this year.

That means teenagers are busy seeking out the perfect dress, suit or tux.

According to promgirl.com, a website devoted to all things prom, the average prom dress is often the most expensive investment — ranging from $100 to $600 — but local teenagers have the chance to pick out prom dresses for free.

Three different organizations are hosting free prom dress giveaways throughout the county, starting this weekend.

The Second Dance Dress event will be held Sunday, Feb. 20, in the Mt. Vernon High School cafeteria.

A giveaway called Hancock County Once Upon a Prom will follow next weekend, Feb. 26-27 at the Overlook at Briney Creek.

Greenfield-Central High School students will have the chance to select prom attire to rent for just $10 starting Feb. 28.

The volunteers behind each event share one motivation — making prom affordable for every student.

This weekend’s Second Dance Dress event is hosted by Jennifer and David Sweet, who collect and clean donated dresses throughout the year.

As parents to three kids, two of which are daughters, the Sweets know just how pricey prom can be.

“Prom is expensive. Between tickets, shoes, accessories and dinner — then adding the dress on top of that — (the cost) can prevent some students from attending,” Jennifer Sweet said.

Having bought new prom dresses for their daughters in years past, she and her husband thought it was a shame to buy a beautiful dress then have it sit in the back of a closet, likely never to be worn again.

The dresses they give away are free, gently used and available to any student who would like one. Students are only asked to bring a non-perishable food item to be donated to a local food pantry.

To encourage future donations, any student who wishes to return a dress can shop for a new one at next year’s giveaway, 30 minutes before it opens to the public.

The Sweets are excited to host the prom dress giveaway this weekend after canceling last year’s event due to COVID, which canceled or altered several local proms over the past two years.

They organized their first dress giveaway in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit.

Thinking what a waste it was to let an expensive dress sit and collect dust after prom, Jennifer Sweet posted on social media that year, asking for donations of gently used dresses to donate to any high school student that would like one.

She went on to collect, clean and give away more than 75 dresses that year.

“The outpouring from friends and my community has been overwhelming,” she said.

She and her husband have over 200 dresses ready to give away on Sunday, several of which are new with tags still attached.

Sweet said it fills her heart with joy to see the excitement on girls’ faces as they search for just the right dress.

“I really hope to give away the perfect dress to each girl,” she said.

A group of friends from Eastern Hancock County — who founded the Hancock County Once Upon A Prom initiative in 2019 — feels the same way.

Trisha Atkins, Susan Collins, Brooke Dodd, Carli Hinton, Jaime O’Neal and Megan Wallace started the event as a way to give back to the community, year after year.

“In our first year, we provided 34 prom dresses to local high school girls. In 2020, we were able to provide 112 girls with prom dresses and accessories,” Hinton said.

She and fellow volunteers created an official nonprofit and set up a component fund through the Hancock County Community Foundation to continue the program indefinitely.

The program accepts donations of new and gently used formal dresses, shoes, purses and jewelry, at a number of drop-off locations throughout the county.

Donations are also accepted the weekend of the event, during posted hours from Feb. 25-27.

The giveaway is open to students from all schools, even those outside of Hancock County.

“In 2020 we served students from all of our Hancock County schools as well as surrounding schools, including as far away as Wabash High School. Any high school student is welcome,” Hinton said.

The dresses are free, but free will donations are encouraged to keep the program running.

“We recognize that prom is an expensive event and can be too costly for some families. We believe that every girl deserves to be able to attend prom without this financial stress,” said Hinton.

The giveaway is open to all students, regardless of financial need.

The same is true at Greenfield-Central High School, where students are able to rent a dress for $10. Menswear, purses and accessories are also available to rent.

The program was started in 2017 by the school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America chapter, which is led by teacher Michelle Overman.

Overman said a group of students were discussing the expense of homecoming dresses that are only worn for one occasion, so a group decided to bring their dresses to school to see if any fellow students would want to wear them.

Over a dozen dresses were given away before homecoming, and students expressed an interest in donating dresses again for prom.

Since then the initiative has grown into what is known as the Formal Closet, which has accumulated hundreds of dresses to be given away. The Formal Closet also offers jewelry and purses along with some menswear, including bow ties, suspenders and jackets.

 

Prom season is quickly approaching, but it can be pricey. Three local giveaways are prepared to connect students with prom dresses at no or low-cost.

The dates for Hancock County high school proms are as follows:

Greenfield-Central High School: April 16 at Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis

Mt. Vernon High School: April 30 at Embassy Suites in Noblesville

Eastern Hancock High School: May 7 at Boondocks Farm in Knightstown

New Palestine High School: May 7 at Old National Centre in Indianapolis

Following are the dates for local prom dress giveaways:

Second Dance Dress

Open to: All students

Cost: Free, but attendees are asked to bring non-perishable food to be donated to a local pantry

Time/Date/Location: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Mt. Vernon High School cafeteria

Donation drop-off: Contact Jennifer Sweet

Contact: Jennifer Sweet, [email protected]

Hancock County Once Upon a Prom

Open to: All students

Cost: Free

Date/time/location: 4:30-7:30 p.m. Feb. 25; 12-6 p.m. Feb. 26 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 27, at the Overlook at Briney Creek, 687 S 400 E, Greenfield

Donation drop off: Through Feb. 24 at Union Savings & Loan Association (Greenfield); Jane Pauley Community Health Center (Greenfield); and Wilkinson Insurance Agency, LLC (Wilkinson); as well as at the giveaway event.

Contact: Carli Hinton, [email protected]

Formal Closet

Open to: Greenfield-Central High School students

Cost: $10 rental fee for dresses (menswear and accessories also available to rent)

Time/Date/Location:: During students’ lunch period, Feb. 28-March 11 and March 28-April 1

Donation drop-off: High school office, during school hours

Contact: Michelle Overman, [email protected]